The High Court on Tuesday (22 October) dismissed an application for an interim injunction in a defamation case brought against the London-based journalist and campaigner Poonam Joshi also known as Poonam Joshi Alles.
The case was brought by Kabir Kumar Manohar Jagwani – an assistant head teacher at Cumberland School in East London – over an article published by Ms Joshi-Alles in July 2019, laying out a number of serious allegations made against Mr Jagwani, made by his ex-wife Ms Kiran Parwani.
Mr Jagwani – along with three members of his family – are currently facing multiple charges, ranging from Criminal Breach of Trust to Dowry Harassment, in India. Having failed to appear at the Indore Magistrate’s Court in Madhya Pradesh, India, there are now arrest warrants issued against Mr Jagwani and his family members.
The charges relate to Mr Jagwani’s short-lived marriage to Ms Parwani in 2018, in the run up to which, Ms Parwani alleges, she was abused and exploited by Mr Jagwani and his family. Among the allegations she has made is one of rape against Mr Jagwani and one of assault against his mother.
Through her organization, Indian Ladies in UK, Ms Joshi-Alles campaigns on behalf of Indian women – both here in the UK and in India – who have fallen victim to so-called ‘Non-Resident Indian’ (NRI) men, individuals of Indian extraction currently settled in the West or those born to parents of Indian origin living in the West.
Such abuse remains a widespread problem within Indian Diaspora communities around the world. Vulnerable women in India who aspire themselves to settle in the west are sought out and exploited for dowry and material gain and then abandoned in India, their “dependent spousal” visas cancelled, ensuring they will never be able to seek justice in a British court of law.
The problem is so widespread that the Indian government has recently introduced a new law – the Registration of Marriage of Non Resident Indians – to tackle the issue.
As part of her work, Ms Joshi-Alles works closely with the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, which had originally referred Ms Parwani’s case to her, in August 2018.
The article that relates to the case was published just under a year later in July 2019.
In his action Mr Jagwani claimed that Ms Joshi-Alles’ article – published on the website of Indian Ladies in UK – and her subsequent posts about him on Facebook and Twitter have “damaged his reputation” and caused him “depression”.
Mr Jagwani also claimed that the article and posts by Ms Joshi-Alles amounted to “Harassment” under the Prevention of Harassment Act.
Mr Jagwani initially issued a pre-action protocol against Ms Joshi-Alles demanding that she take down the article. When she refused he brought the defamation action against her, demanding £60,000 in compensation and damages.
He also sought the interim injunction for the article to be pulled down along with Ms Joshi-Alles’ Social Media posts, prior to the start of the trial, at the Queen’s Bench Division (Media and Communications List) at the High Court.
On the day of the hearing into the injunction the claimant’s lawyers – the family and immigration specialists RVS Solicitors – presented Ms Joshi-Alles with a demand for costs of £15,000.
Ms Joshi-Alles, as she cannot afford legal representation, represented herself in the matter throughout.
Half an hour before the hearing was due to begin Ms Joshi-Alles was issued with a letter notifying her of the claimant’s wish to adjourn the hearing. It claimed that as Ms Joshi-Alles had delivered her “draft defence” to the court and to the claimant’s lawyers the day before, the claimant’s barrister – Mr John Buck QC – had not had sufficient opportunity to prepare a response. It also claimed that Mr Buck had mixed up his diary and had to be at a different hearing.
Mr Justice Murray, sitting at the Queen’s Bench, refused the request for an adjournment pointing out that Ms Joshi-Alles’ draft defence had no bearing on the injunction hearing but rather related to the possible trial.
Having heard submissions from both sides – the claimant was represented by Mr Gwyn Evans – Justice Murray refused to grant the injunction.
In his ruling, Justice Murray states, “I do not doubt that Mr Jagwani has been distressed by the July 2019 Article, including the various instances of its re-publication and by adverse comments made in social media posts about him and/or his conduct by various individuals who have seen the article. I am not satisfied that the conduct he describes reaches the level of seriousness referred to by Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead in Majrowski at , such that the conduct would be “of an order which would sustain criminal liability under section 2 [of the Prevention of Harrassment Act]”.
He concluded, “In my view, the conduct of Ms Joshi-Alles about which he (Mr Jagwani) complains does not even come close to that line. I cannot conclude, on an application for interim injunction, that the July 2019 Article and Ms Joshi-Alles’s related social media comments are “attended by some exceptional circumstance which justifies sanctions and the restriction on the freedom of expression that they involve.”
Among the examples cited by the claimant as amounting to “harassment” was a Facebook post by Ms Joshi-Alles which had no mention of Mr Jagwani or any other individual but was instead a quote from Margeret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Mr Jagwani claimed the post was an “incitement to violence against him”.
Justice Murray however, dismissed the claim. “I do not consider that it can be viewed as a serious incitement to violence against Mr Jagwani, given that it does not mention him and viewing it with common sense and in context. It is deliberately heightened speech, in my view, intended to have a rhetorical effect, but nothing more.”
Justice Murray concludes that the claimant’s case falls short of establishing that Ms Joshi-Alles’ actions amounted to harassment or defamation.
It is not clear whether the claimant will continue to trial.
Speaking after the judgment was issued, Ms Joshi-Alles said: “I work with hundreds of victims of men like Mr Jagwani. This is a man who has been charged by an Indian court, who – along with three members of his family – have warrants out for their arrests as well as “Look Out Circulars” authorising their arrest in any port in India, a country to which they travel frequently to and where they have ties to. And yet instead of facing justice in that country, Mr Jagwani has spent thousands of pounds bringing a case of defamation against me to stifle my right to free speech and my right to stand up to these victims. If every liar, cheat and abuser can use Pre Action Protocols and court actions to gag journalists and campaigners, where will that leave victims?”